Lesson #115: How to Bribe Yourself to Work Out

by Rachel on January 5, 2012

With goals on everyone’s minds this week, it’s a good time to talk about rewards. After all, the bribery process is part of the planning process, right?

To be honest, I didn’t used to get motivated by rewards. Or at least not tangible ones. You’d think that because I’m materialistic, I’d do anything to earn something new and shiny. But I always prioritized intangible rewards, like getting attention from a guy or looking good at Formal, over stuff. I’d hit the snooze and cost myself a new iPod, but I’d get up at any hour and do any workout if you told me it would make a boy like me.

Eventually, though, my shallow qualities had a showdown and because I learned that nothing I did to change my appearance could make boys like me, stuff won. So now that I do reward myself a bit more, I have learned a few things about how to do workout rewards.

1. Make it something you can live without; otherwise, you’ll just buy it anyway. This is crucial and it seems obvious, but I used to do this and I’ve seen other people do it too. If your reward for a going to eight spin classes in a month is, say, getting your hair blown out on the day of your friend’s wedding, and you can currently list 20 reasons why you want/need that blowout, you will, without question, talk yourself into getting that blowout whether you go to spin class or not. So make it a non-essential item. When I was working out at Define, I really wanted a pair of the grippy socks that all the regulars wore during classes. I didn’t need them, of course…and that’s exactly why I wanted to earn them. But on that note…

2. Don’t make your reward something that you really need to work out effectively. This is another one that so many people do. “If I run three times a week for a month, I’m going to buy myself new running shoes! That way I know I’ll actually use them!” See, this sounds good in theory, but trust me — if you’re currently wearing shoes that give you blisters, you’re turning your reward into something you can’t live without. (See #1). You’ll either cave and buy the shoes in a week or you won’t ever stick with running. If you need new gym clothes, buy the damn gym clothes now and trust that sometimes, preemptive motivation goes far. If you’re worried you’ll lose your motivation by doing this, make a deal with yourself that if you don’t hit your goal, you’ll donate the exact amount you spent on the reward to a political cause you hate. All that said…

3. Rewards related to working out are often good. For example, you might decide that your reward for your month of running is an entry fee into a pricey race you want to run. When you do something like this, your motivation increases on so many levels. Now you’re motivated because you really want to run the race…but you’re also motivated because you want to get in shape to run the race. Another workout-related idea that I love: when I taught spin, one of my students made my Saturday spin class her reward for getting in all her other workouts that week. Making your favorite workout a treat…how smart is that?!

4. Think stocking stuffers. Sure, a $100 massage sounds nice, but really? For a month of working out? Come on. If you always think big, start weaning yourself off of pricey rewards; you shouldn’t need to drop that much cash to get your ass to the gym. To me, the best rewards are things that would qualify as stocking stuffers: small things that are very you and make you happy. Those socks I worked so hard for? Cost $10. I’m also willing to do just about anything for pretty measuring cups from Williams-Sonoma or a new mug from Anthropologie, both of which are under $15. Start with a small reward; you might be surprised how little it takes.

There are plenty of great non-stuff rewards. For me, there’s the “not wasting money on a membership I’m not using” reward, the “I dont have to buy bigger pants so now I can spend that money on nail polish and Starbucks” reward, the “not acting like a way-too-stressed-out-biatch because I haven’t done a downward dog all week” reward, the “hopefully I’ll live a little longer” reward, and the “I’m going to be delusional for a minute and think I can get arms like Michelle Obama” reward. And that stuff counts. But I know it will only take me so far. If I’m going start pushing myself this year to do more challenging workouts, a tangible reward every now and then is just the thing to make things fun and keep me going.

What are your favorite workout rewards?